Kill your ego?
The Buddhists have a saying, “If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.” This is a metaphor and a riddle, not a call to violence. It is supposed to mean, “Don’t take anybody’s word for it. Don’t let anyone stuff dogma down your throat. Go seek and experience the great truths of life for yourself.”
Similarly, many of us have been told that we should kill the ego. We think, “Oh. My ego is bad. It causes so much trouble and gets in the way of my spiritual growth, so just get rid of it. Right?”
Wrong. Taking that instruction too literally would be tossing the proverbial baby with the bathwater and an extreme act of violence toward ourselves. How far is it from “my ego is bad” to “I am bad”? How many of us have this nagging feeling throughout our lives that we are somehow bad? Or at least not good enough? And what do we do with that feeling? Maybe we accept it as our truth and act out every stereotype of being a self-destructive loser we can find. Or we stuff it down. We try to be really, really good and spend our lives trying to please other people, squashing our personal truths, delaying the gratification of our desires, giving our power away to those we love and to those from whom we seek the love and validation that would heal that hole in our hearts. Or maybe we self medicate with drugs, alcohol, workaholism, sex, shopping, extreme sports, or any other experience that will take us far away from ourselves.
I am guilty of believing myself to be bad, or at least inadequate. I am guilty of stuffing myself in a box to make other people feel better about themselves. I am guilty of running away from myself. These experiences were sometimes fun, sometimes hell on earth; they are part of my truth, either way. I have known them and I have learned from them.
The original definition of ego is simply the individual, personal identity. According to the yogic teachings, we are born into this body, into this life, with this personality and identity, but that is not all of who we are. We also have a Self, a Soul, a divine aspect that is one with every other living being throughout space and time. Suffering comes when we lose this connection. Bliss comes when we regain it.
Ego is often thought of as narcissism or the dark side of pride, when we are so puffed up on our superstar selves or so tightly cocooned in our very special personal pain that we fail to perceive the world around us with any clarity. We get caught up in power struggles and lose our sense of the profound existential love that is always with us, inside and all around. But this lonely, self-absorbed experience of ego is simply a state of being in which we are cut off from our Self, our Soul, our connection with the divine and with the divine in each other.
This separation is the exact state that we transcend through the practice of meditation and yoga. Literally translated, yoga means “to yoke,” and it describes the many ways in which we join that individual identity (ego) with the divine aspect our being, the Soul. When this happens, we feel whole. Loneliness no longer afflicts us. We stop trying to fill that hole through outside objects, addictions, or manipulating situations or people, and find that our life choices take on a new meaning, our life path a new trajectory, and our identity, our sense of who we are is not the same as it used to be.
If I attain this blissful union, have I killed my ego? Or simply expanded my identity? Both, in a way. The old me dies so that the new me can emerge. Yet I am still myself, even more myself. Perhaps the greatest challenge of personal growth is relaxing out of my fear of the little death of who I was, and into the something greater that is emerging.
Wahe guru, with the warmth of my love,